LeanSix Sigma

Help Decision Making with a Cause & Effect (C&E) Matrix

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 27th, 2020

ce-graph.jpgLast night we discussed how we can use a Cause and Effect (C&E) Matrix to narrow down a long list of inputs into a more manageable one.  I also provided a free MS Excel C&E Matrix Template for those interested.

Tonight I want to discuss how we can use this same tool to narrow down a list of potential solutions.

Next Level Brainstorming with Cause & Effect Matrix

Brainstorming, when done properly, is an extremely powerful way to uncover potential solutions to a problem.  The problem arises after a brainstorming session when we have a huge list of ideas with no idea where to start.

We can use n/3 to help us narrow this list done as we have discussed before.  But I find the C&E Matrix extremely helpful in situations like this.

How to do it

  1. With management support identify some key criteria that will be used to determine which solution is most optimal.  Some criteria may be the impact the solution is expected to have, the effort required to implement the solution, the payback period, etc.  We will load these criteria in the same place we loaded the “outputs” last night.  We will also rank these criteria accordingly.  For example, the potential impact may have a rank of 10 (very important) while the payback period may rank 8 (important).
  2. Load the list of potential solutions into the matrix in the same place we loaded the inputs.  Again, these solutions can come from brainstorming sessions, employee suggestions, etc.
  3. For each solution ask how much impact it will have on each of the management criteria with 10 being a huge impact and 1 being little to no impact.
  4. When using the free C&E Matrix Template we will be able to see (after sorting by the total column) which solutions deserve our immediate attention and which may need to wait a month or so.
  5. After sorting by the total score and graphing in a Pareto like manner we can see where we may want to focus first.  In our example (see picture) we notice three “groupings” of solutions.  We would likely attack the green group first, then the yellow, and possibly the red.  This is an excellent way to identify kaizen events.

Other Uses of a Cause & Effect Matrix

There are many other ways to use the C&E Matrix.  I have used it to help me decide whether to take a new job… the two “inputs” were company 1 and company 2.  The “outputs” were things like total compensation, benefits, etc.  Instead of letting my emotions and feelings tell me what to do I channeled my thoughts into this tool and let it speak to me.  It has never failed me with big decisions like this.

I have a good friend who uses the C&E Matrix to help him and his family choose their annual vacation destination.  His kids are experts at the tool!  This same guy also uses the tool to help him choose his next car.


Well that is about all there is to it.  It is pretty straight forward once you use the tool a few times.  If you have never used the tool I hope you will give it a try the next time you need to make some tough decision… you know like should we go to Disney Land or Sea World?

  1. Rob

    June 14, 2007 - 9:31 pm

    Ron – I’ve used this I couple of times before in conjunction with an FMEA. Another tool I’ve just started to get into is the Pugh or Criteria Based Matrix during the design phase.

    It’s essentially a ranking tool that helps you establish which items or potential solutions are more important or ‘better’ than others. You assign scores versus pre-determined criteria, selecting the options based on the consolidated scores.


  2. Ron

    June 14, 2007 - 9:38 pm

    Hi Rob,

    I have not played with the Pugh much but want to look into it. Perhaps you can share your thoughts on your blog making my learning experience easier! 😉

  3. Jim

    June 15, 2007 - 4:09 pm

    Hi Ron,
    Two other good similar tools are to do an ease (hard to easy to do) and effect (minimal change to maximum change) matrix. This is great for deciding how much bang you are going to get for the effort (money + time) put in.
    The other is to do a home and away table (like soccer results) for comparing ideas. Does A beat B, A beat D, B beat D, etc. The best ideas come out with the highest score

  4. Ron

    June 17, 2007 - 9:08 pm

    Thanks for the tips Jim. This tool is almost endless when it comes to applications.

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